Jim Furyk is the only player to twice shoot sub-60 on tour. He tells us in his own words the mental strength needed to go low and win a major
That Jim Furyk is lining up at Pebble Beach at all is probably a surprise to everyone but him. Ryder Cup captaincy, and long-term niggling injuries, usually spells the end for a player in his late 40s but here he is – hovering around the world’s top 50 and about to play his 25th US Open.
America’s national championship has always been his favourite major stamping ground. He’s finished runner-up three times and won the coveted trophy at Olympia Fields 16 years ago when converting a healthy final round lead into a three-shot victory over Stephen Leaney.
But Furyk’s just as renowned for a pair of sensational rounds, the first a 59 in the second round of the BMW Championship in 2013 at Conway Farms, before becoming the only player to shoot 58 when firing a 12-under total in the final round of the Travelers Championship in 2016.
That also made him the only player in PGA Tour history to sign for two scores under 60. With events at Pebble Beach about to unfold, we asked him to look back on his major moment, those two amazing scores, as well as his hopes for the future…
I was playing really well going into that tournament. I think the three previous events I had finished in the top 10 so I was going in there with a lot of confidence.
I felt really good about my game but I was using a putter in those three events that had been deemed illegal in my off week.
I had to switch putters for the US Open. Honestly? It kind of gave me a chip on my shoulder.
It ticked me off a little bit. I was playing really good and having that little edge to me that week was enough.
I really wanted to go out there and play well and I thought about winning that tournament before I started.
I got off to a really bad start. I was two over after the first nine on a really good day for scoring and then I think I shot 4- or 5-under on my second side – played a solid round – and played really well on Friday and put myself in position.
It takes a lot of patience to win a US Open. I was really playing well. I was driving the ball well and my irons were sharp. I putted well – my short game – everything just felt good.
It really becomes a mental battle in those conditions and I was able to stay patient and take the lumps as they came and move on.
I think I handled that situation on the weekend, when the course really transformed and changed, as well or better than anyone else. That was the difference.
There are some years I have handled it better than others. The year previously, I was playing really well at Southern Hills and played a really poor Sunday round. I got upset with myself and I pressed.
I lost my patience and might have shot a round in the 80s.
I let the golf course get the better of me and I was determined not to let that happen again the following year.
The hardest part of a US Open is sitting on a lead. The tee times are so late on Sunday. I was in the players’ dining room and the TV was on. I was trying not to pay much attention and just go about my business.
But I could hear the sound and the announcer – it might have been Johnny Miller – said it was basically my tournament to lose. That statement sums it up. You are sitting on a big lead at the US Open.
You have all day to think about it and it is tough to sleep at night. If you go into it with the mentality that it is your tournament to lose – trying not to lose the event – then you are going to.
So I really wanted to think that I was in position to win and I needed to play like it was my tournament, not my tournament to lose. That’s the mental battle.
I had a couple of good saves early. I had a great save at the 2nd for par and a great save at the 5th for par.
I made a 15-footer and maybe an eight-footer for par. The one on 5 got to the edge of the hole and plopped in. It looked like it stopped on the edge and then fell in late.
I birdied the par-5 6th– that was a hole that I really took advantage of all week – so the par saves were key and then making a birdie relaxed me a little bit. Steve Leaney put some pressure on me but I was able to stay clear.
I’m kind of known as a guy that can grind out a round.
I have played a lot of rounds on tour where I haven’t made a bogey. Stereotypically, I fit courses where scoring is tough and where even par is a good score – the US Open has been my best major.
To be known as a guy that’s got two of the lowest scores in PGA Tour history is fun for me. It’s a bit opposite.
You get hot. You make a bunch of birdies. Both those rounds, physically I was hitting on all cylinders and driving the ball well. My iron game was sharp and I was knocking a bunch of putts in.
Those rounds became more about the mental battle – trying to break a barrier and get under a score. Those battles are way more difficult than the physical ones.
I enjoyed the mental side of things and enjoyed the opportunity and feel very fortunate I was able to break 60 and then go back and break that record and shoot 58.
You pinch yourself and try to think about how it happened. It’s something I am very proud of. It’s interesting how to rate something like that in your career. I think of it as a feather in my cap and I was able to do something.
Someday, someone is going to break that record. Al Geiberger broke the record [in the second round of the 1977 Memphis Classic with a 13-under 59] and it was tied, but never broken, for 39 years.
The 58 is going to be broken – probably in sooner than 39 years but it would be really cool to hold on to it for that long.
Both rounds mirrored each other. I shot 8-under on the front nine and got off to good starts on the back. So it became more of a mental battle and trying to get it in. It’s funny [for the 58] I remember the putt at 15 that didn’t go in – where it horseshoed.
It was a drivable par 4. I hit a great drive and it rolled up to the fringe and came back. I hit a chip that went about eight feet by – it was a long pitch shot across the green – and I am walking the 8-footer in and it came back at me.
It would mean more to me to win on the PGA Tour again than probably any in my career.
If I could win out here on tour again, that would mean a lot to me. I am healthy again and really anxious to see. The last year I was healthy was 2015 and I was ranked fourth in the world that year.
I am older now, a different player now, but I would like to see how competitive I can be.
Jim Furyk was chatting to Steve Carroll.